Commission works on plan to keep park open

Published 1:13 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ohio Department of Transportation officials have agreed to give the county 15 days to come up with a plan to save Ellisonville Park, a longtime rest area on State Route 93.

That was the outcome of a meeting between ODOT, Wayne National Forest and the county commission on Tuesday.

Also attending the meeting were Rep. Ryan Smith of the 87th District and Rock Hill High students, Rayna Boggs, Logan Barcus and Madison Summers, with their teacher Lana Ramirez.

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Sophomores from the high school conducted a letter-writing campaign in protest of the park closure. They were joined by area residents who signed petitions placed at service stations and grocery stores along State Route 93 by the commission. Approximately 1,000 signatures were collected in support of keeping the park opened.

“We are really appreciative of ODOT who could have taken a strong stand,” Commission President Les Boggs said. “We think there is an alternative.”

The park operated as a primitive rest area by ODOT was slated for demolition this week, but community protests temporarily halted those plans.

ODOT officials have said they are shutting down those types of rest areas throughout the state because of the high cost of maintenance and upgrades needed for the restrooms to make it in compliance with state regulations.

Located within the boundaries of the Wayne National Forest, ODOT operates the park from a permit it has with the forest service. According to that permit when ODOT ceases to run the rest area, it must remove all structures, including the shelter houses and restrooms, culverts and roadways there.

A possible way to keep the park open is having the Elizabeth Township Trustees provide the maintenance for the park as far as grass cutting and cleaning.

“One of the things they would like to propose is they have all the equipment to cut the grass and the prisoners (from the community service program),” Boggs told the audience at the meeting. “(They) have the manpower and equipment to maintain that at no charge.”

In order to do that Elizabeth Township Trustees would have to have a permit with the forest service.

“The permit is if you walk away you have to have all things removed,” Carol Boll of the WNF said.

If the trustees ceased to operate the park, they would be responsible for its demolition.

“Everything would have to be returned as it began,” Kaye Humble of ODOT, said. “The demolition of all structures, roads, culverts and returned to its natural habitat.”

Since ODOT was planning on shutting down the rest area this month it had to give the maintenance service 30 days notice so there is currently no one to clean the restrooms.

“We would require they remain closed since we have no one to clean,” Humble said.

Boggs asked Smith if he could find funds to renovate the rest rooms.

“Those facilities are obsolete,” Boggs said. “That doesn’t mean new one couldn’t be built.”

Both Boggs and Commissioner Freddie Hayes asked Humble if the county could have time to work out an alternative for operating the park.

“Could we have 15 days to have some kind of a tentative agreement,” Boggs asked. “I don’t know if ODOT can wait 15 days.”

“Are you willing to give us 15 days,” Hayes asked.

“Certainly,” Humble said.

“If you give us 15 days, we will come up with something,” Hayes said.